Mychal Givens? Ian Kennedy? Francisco Liriano? All of them could be in play as the July Trade Deadline approaches. While some teams will be shopping for a middle-of-the-order hitter and others will try to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter, one thing every contender wants is bullpen help. As a result, relievers are often the most interesting players to watch at the deadline.
There is some extra intrigue this year with the elimination of “waiver trades” in August, which means that July 31 will be the last chance for teams to make upgrades from outside of their own organization.
We have seen late-inning arms transform very good teams into championship-caliber teams in recent seasons. Would the Cubs have won the 2016 World Series if they hadn’t acquired Aroldis Chapman that July?
With the Trade Deadline a little more than two months away, here are nine relievers who could be on the move. For now, we’ll look at teams that look like potential "sellers," but a well-timed winning streak could change that in a hurry.
1. Ty Buttrey, RHP, Angels: As the Angels' setup man, Buttrey's fastball touches 98 mph, and his curveball is excellent. The Red Sox sent him to Anaheim last summer in the deal that got them second baseman Ian Kinsler. Wouldn’t it be something if he ended up back in Boston as the Red Sox attempt to put the finishing touches on their roster this summer?
2. Ian Kennedy, RHP, Royals: Money complicates this potential deal, which means the Royals may have to pick up some of the $16.5 million he’s owed in 2020 in exchange for a sweeter trade package. Kennedy, 34, began this season with two career relief appearances, but may have found a successful second MLB chapter, posting a strikeout rate near 30 percent this season for what would be the first time in his career.
3. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates: This would not be Liriano's first rodeo -- he was a Trade Deadline pickup in 2012 (White Sox), 2016 (Blue Jays), and 2017 (Astros). Now 35, Liriano's having one of his best seasons, and could be a nice pickup for some contender.
4. Mychal Givens, RHP, Orioles: Givens' life would change in a big way if the Orioles trade him to a contender. He has been at his best this season (2.89 ERA, 32.4 percent strikeout rate), pitching multiple innings at times and getting out both left-handed and right-handed hitters.
5. Kelvin Herrera, RHP, White Sox: This one is complicated. The White Sox signed Herrera to a two-year contract with the idea they’d flirt with .500 this season and be in contention in 2020. And they just might. On the other hand, Chicago's not at a point where any veteran is untouchable. Herrera’s fastball has lost a couple of mph, but he’s added a cutter and he’s still effective. Never mind that 5.50 ERA -- take away one bad appearance on May 5, and it drops to a presentable 3.12. Did we mention money? He’ll make $8.5 million this season and another $8.5 million in 2020, nothing that would scare off most teams.
6. Shawn Kelley, RHP, Rangers: Kelley’s on the injured list with an unknown bacterial infection. Presumably, he’ll be back soon, and his 1.29 ERA in 14 appearances along with an excellent slider could make him a solid addition to a playoff competitor. After two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow, his workload must be managed, but the postseason has lots of days off.
7. Lou Trivino, RHP, A’s: Logic dictates Trivino won’t be traded. He's been one of baseball’s best relievers the last two seasons and is under team control through 2024. The A’s expected to contend this year, but they currently sit a few games below .500, and are always open for business, which makes a call to president of baseball operations Billy Beane worth the time.
8. Ken Giles, RHP, Blue Jays: Giles had a tough postseason for the Astros in 2017 and an abrupt exit from the club the following season. But his numbers are once again excellent this season. His fastball occasionally touches 100 mph, and he’s averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings with a 1.038 WHIP.
9. David Hernandez, RHP, Reds: Hernandez has ridden his slider to an excellent start this season, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He has struggled with his control at times, but has held right-handed hitters to a .178 batting average.